On Monday and Tuesday, I attended a seminar hosted by the Georgia Department of Education focused on human trafficking. I was thrilled to see the state taking an offensive role in this atrocity, and educating its teachers and administrators on the issue and prevention. They hope to have a poster in every school in the state with relevant information and hotline numbers by next fall as part of their “Not in Georgia” campaign.
One of the women who spoke to us was Maria Velikonja, arguably the foremost authority on human trafficking within the FBI. Most of what she shared with us was her experience throughout Eastern Europe, and how that related to what we are currently seeing here in the US and Georgia. Unfortunately, there is no complete profile for victims of human trafficking because it spans both genders, all socioeconomic classes, all sizes and shapes, various ages, etc. There are some factors, though, which do seem to be common for many cases:
- Lower class homes
- Ages 9-18, or as high as early 20s
- Single-parent homes
- Homes where the parents pay little attention to the child
- Substance problems
- Ran away from home before
- Girls with a series of older boyfriends
- Low self-esteem
- Illegal citizens
- Good student with declining grades
- Gang members or hang around gangs
These are by no means definitive, though. There are plenty of cases that have broken these molds. But the above mentioned characteristics can make a child more susceptible.
Maria also shared some of the findings from a 2005 report called “Hidden in Plain Sight” which make Georgia a breeding ground for this kind of activity.
- In 2000, Georgia was ranked #1 in the US for percentage of childhood poverty.
- Over 4,000 strippers work in Atlanta.
- There are 440+ strip clubs in Atlanta.
- A lot of illegal activity takes place at strip clubs, even legal ones.
- 90% of runaway children in Atlanta become part of the sex industry.
- Pimps come to Atlanta from elsewhere because of the city’s reputation.
- Most predators make contact with pimps via the internet.
- 45-50% of minors in Atlanta live in single parent households.
- Once on the street, 1/3 of runaway teens will be lured or recruited into prostitution within 48 hours.
- Atlanta ranks in the top five US cities for the highest levels of child trafficking.
- Many children are recruited from public transit, malls, Underground Atlanta, schools, and even from their friends or schoolmates.
One of the most shocking statistics I’ve heard since I started learning about this issue a few years ago is that men who purchase sex with these children and teens are not who you’d think. In Atlanta, over 40% were men north of the Atlanta Perimeter. These are typically white, middle to upper class men. Shocking and sad. These are men we could very well know or associate with. Why? I believe it’s because they don’t like the story they are living in and are looking for escape. They want a dangerous break from their world. There are more than just desperate housewives out there.
What you can do:
- Report ANY kind of suspicious activity.
- Be informed and inform others.
- Make your children aware of the situation.
- Help your child’s school learn about the issue. A21 also has a student guide PDF.
- Buy items made by trafficking victims worldwide to help offer them alternatives. Along with this, know where the products you buy come from. Example, most chocolate that we purchase in the US comes from slave labor. There is an app called Free2Work that you can download to help you navigate. Purchase power is one of the most important things you have at your disposal on any issue.
- Ask questions.
- Mentor or look out for children who could be at risk.
- Mentor or look out for young boys who are at risk of growing up to be a perpetrator, trafficker or pimp.
- Don’t ignore the issue. Crime thrives when it’s ignored.
- Support an organization working to end human slavery. Examples, Not For Sale, Street Grace, WellSpring Living, A21 Campaign, DNA Foundation, Night Light, Hagar International, Better Way Imports, Freeset, Radiant Hope…and these are just a few.
- Whatever you do, just DO SOMETHING.
Should you have any need to report anything suspicious regarding human trafficking, the national hotline conducted by Polaris is 888-373-7888.